The following is an investigative report I wrote for my Report Writing class at Northern College in Northern Ontario. I am not native Canadian, but this issue has been on my mind ever since I first heard about it a few years ago. Since then I have spent time volunteering with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Stolen Sisters, Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement of Ottawa, Search and Rescue Global 1, and the search for Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander from Kitigan Zibi, Quebec. If you take the time to read this lengthy post, first of all thank you, secondly please do communicate with me if you wish to share more information or correct me. The goal of this writing was to get a better understanding of the situation surrounding violence against my fellow Canadians.
Amnesty International and the Native Women’s Association of Canada have published reports describing an epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The data they have collected and researched indicates that a minimum of 520 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada over the last five decades. Both organizations argue, along with support from other agencies, that the Provincial governments and the Federal government of Canada are actively ignoring the dire situation of Indigenous women. This report concludes that the impact of colonization created multi-generational trauma which continues to impact the generations of Indigenous people today. To this day very little is being done in the way of improving the living conditions on reserves. Inequalities in employment and housing opportunities forces Indigenous women to the margins of society. The intentional targeting of victims based on gender and membership to a particular ethnicity violates their basic human rights. Racism and misogyny are the leading contributing factors to the victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The stereotyping of Indigenous people as holding no human value beyond sexual gratification is putting Indigenous women and girls at an increased risk of becoming victims of violent crimes. Police departments lack the familiarity with Indigenous communities to adequately understand and respond to their needs. The issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls is met with a lack of political desire to improve the lives of the Indigenous people. Furthermore this report suggests the following recommendations to improve the lives of Indigenous women and girls; the adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Canadian government signed in 1948, the creation of a comprehensive and inclusive national database of missing people in Canada, increased education of police officers with regards to Indigenous culture, traditions, and needs, government initiatives to eradicate the inequality in quality of life and social services between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, campaigns to increase awareness and tolerance between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Canadians, and a joint opportunity for healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Amnesty International reported in 2004 on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and what they believe to be the contributing factors to the epidemic of violence perpetrated against them. In July of 2009 the Native Women’s Association of Canada released a report claiming that a minimum of 520 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing over the last number of decades. Amnesty International along with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the United Nations have published a large number of data since that time indicating that the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls is not being appropriately addressed by the Provincial governments and the Federal Government of Canada alike.
The report looks at the factors contributing to the epidemic proportions of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada over the last number of decades. It offers a comprehensive conclusion and a number of recommendations to improve the quality of life for Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The report is focused on violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls in Canada’s Western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia over the last five decades.
The report excludes incidences of violence against Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit women and girls in the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, as well as Canada’s Eastern provinces. It lacks access to reports prepared specifically related to the issue by the government of Canada as they at current are not available to the general public.
This report was written with the consultation of reports prepared by the following organizations; Amnesty International, The Native Women’s Association of Canada, The United Nations, Canada Border Services Agency, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and it draws as well on information obtained by the author while volunteering with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International, The Sisters in Spirit Initiative and Search and Rescue Global 1.
Plan of Presentation
The report addresses the historic and current separation of Indigenous families, the factors of racism and misogyny, police inadequacy, and Indigenous women’s human rights.
Historic and Current Separation of Indigenous Families
The Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, since been renamed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, states in 1996 that the repeated assaults on the culture and collective identity of Indigenous people have weakened the foundations of Indigenous society and contributed to the alienation that motivates part of the self-destruction and anti-social behaviours. The Indigenous peoples of Canada have suffered more than a century of colonialism that has severely affected their identities and has pushed them to the margins of society. The suppression of their cultures, languages, institutions, theft of their territories, and the ongoing mass removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities has severely crippled their Indigenous identity. The Federal government issued an official apology on behalf of all Canadians for the history and legacy of Indigenous residential schools, beginning in the 1870’s and continuing until the 1990’s. The harmful upbringing the children received after being removed from their families and communities created a magnitude of multi-generational trauma. Currently Indigenous women earn on average 30 per cent less than non-Indigenous women making it difficult for them to support themselves, let alone their families. This contributes to the fact that Indigenous children are on average four to six times more likely to be removed from their families and communities and put in state care. A number of these children are removed from their homes and communities due to abuse, however, a large portion are removed due to poor living circumstances. The abject poverty on reserves includes poor access to affordable housing and uncontaminated drinking water as two main factors to the poor living conditions. Indigenous children services receive on average 22 per cent less funding per child than their provincial counterpart. Despite Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology after being elected into office in 2006 his government rejected an Accord which would help eliminate the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous living conditions.
Racism and Misogyny
Racism and misogyny are believed to be the leading factors behind the five decade long epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Although, it is true that a number of women included in the statistics and reports were victims of domestic violence it still highlights an extreme level of misogyny in the lives of these women within their communities. A large proportion of the cases involve non-Indigenous men who target Indigenous women and girls for sexual gratification and to carry out extreme acts of violence upon them. Due to the marginalization these women experience in their lives many crimes against them go unreported, which creates a sense of invincibility for their perpetrators as they believe they will not be held accountable for their gruesome actions. It is the opinion of Amnesty International and The Native Women’s Association of Canada that barring any unfortunate circumstances all 520 women and girls would still be alive today if it weren’t for the fact that they were a) Indigenous and b) of the female gender. A provincial inquiry in the 1971 death of Helen Betty Osborne concluded that her murder was motivated by the vicious stereotypes born out of ignorance and aggression and they believe that Indigenous women held no human value beyond sexual gratification in the eyes of her four murderers. The perpetrators of the violence can be both acquaintances to the victims and their families as well as strangers. Amnesty International states that in all cases the Canadian authorities failed to adequately respond to the women, girls, and families in crisis. The Canadian government remains deaf, blind, and mute on the issues contributing to the factors that place these women and girls at risk. In 1996 the Canadian government released a devastating statistic stating that Indigenous women, who hold status under the Indian Act, between the ages of 25 and 44 are five times more likely than non-Indigenous women in the same age category to be victims of violence. Police forces have been non-responsive or slow to act upon concerns from families and communities with regards to disappearances. In British Columbia serial murderer Robert Pickton was initially arrested for the attempted murder of a woman in 1997, however, he was released and between that time and his arrest in 2002 it is believed he murdered more than 20 women on his pig farm in rural BC. At an inquiry it was disclosed that Pickton is suspected to have started killing women as early as 1991, disputed by some that he may have started his killing spree in the late 1980’s.
According to the police the majority of cases involving missing persons do not involve violence or foul play, especially in cases involving young individuals, this does not excuse inaction on part of the police departments as individuals who are cut off from families and their communities are at higher risk of becoming victims of violent crimes. There is no universal tool for dealing with missing person’s in Canada at present. In case of a disappearance the course of action decision rests on the individual police officers dealing with the reporting party. This increases the risk of biases, misunderstanding, misinformation, prejudice, discrimination and perpetuating of abuse and neglect of Indigenous women and girls. Pauline and Herb Muskego, parents of murdered 27-year old university student and mother Daleen Kay Bosse from Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, reported that they were discouraged by the Saskatoon police department to file a missing person’s report even after days and weeks without contact from their daughter. The police insisted that their daughter would eventually return home without the need for intervention. Daleen’s parents voiced frustration with the eight months delay of the Saskatoon police department before the initiating of an investigation in their daughter’s disappearance and murder. Daleen went missing in 2004 and her remains were found in 2008, police have since made an arrest in her murder.
Indigenous Women’s Human Rights
Despite the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 the Canadian government continues to fail Indigenous people in Canada. The human rights concept is based on recognizing the dignity and worth of each and every human being. Violence against Indigenous women and girls stems from overt cultural prejudice and of systemic biases in the policies and actions of government officials, agencies, and society as a whole. The discriminatory policies continue to put Indigenous women and girls at risk. The lack of understanding and acknowledgement of violence against Indigenous women and girls as being a human rights issue causes the government, media, and general public to consider incidences of such violence to be a criminal concern rather than a social issue. Targeting victims on the basis of gender and ethnicity is a violation of their human rights, as is the lack of adequate support and protection from the appropriate authorities.
- The impact of colonization created the multi-generational trauma which continues to impact the generations of Indigenous people today.
- Police departments lack the familiarity with Indigenous communities to adequately understand and respond to their needs.
- Very little is being done in the way of improving living conditions on reserves.
- Racism and misogyny are the leading contributing factors to the victimization of Indigenous women and girls.
- The stereotyping of Indigenous people as holding no human value beyond sexual gratification is putting women and girls at an increased risk of violence.
- The issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls is met with a lack of political desire to improve the lives of the Indigenous people.
- Inequalities in employment and housing opportunities forces Indigenous women to the margins of society.
- Targeting victims based on gender and belonging to an ethnic group violates their basic human rights.
- Adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948.
- The creation of a comprehensive and inclusive national database of missing people in Canada.
- Education of police officers in Indigenous culture, traditions, and needs.
- Government initiative to eradicate the inequality in quality of life and social services between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
- Campaigns to increase awareness and tolerance between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Canadians.
- A joint opportunity for healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.